Solar panel systems aren't just for houses or commercial properties – they can also be a great resource for on-the-go electricity users, especially compared to older and less efficient sources like propane. In this article, we'll discuss how solar panels for RVs and campers work and go over some of the best options.
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A complete RV solar panel system will typically cost between $600-$2000
RV solar panel setups are usually designed to provide enough power to recharge either small devices or a few larger kitchen appliances
Most solar panels for RVs are between 100 and 400 watts of power
Visit the EnergySage Marketplace to receive custom home solar panel system quotes from pre-vetted installers.
There are many options for buying solar panels for your RV. Below are some products specifically designed for RV power setups.
RV solar panels
Panel Wattage (W)
|Renogy flexible solar panel
|WindyNation solar panel
|Charge controller, connectors, mounting brackets
|Renogy solar panel
|Newpowa solar panel
Renogy flexible solar panel
This offering from Renogy can fit onto unusual roof styles for all types of RVs. It generates 100W of power, which makes it a good fit for small devices like cell phones, wifi routers, and laptops.
WindyNation solar panel
This offering from WindyNation includes a complete kit for mounting and charging the panel. It's also a 100W model, and you can place it wherever is most convenient on an RV.
Renogy 100-watt solar panel
This offering from Renogy is more powerful and efficient than its flexible counterpart. You can use it for both on-grid and off-grid applications.
Newpowa solar panel
This offering from Newpowa is the most inexpensive we've listed, and it's smaller than most panels, giving you even more placement flexibility while still offering high efficiency and performance.
RV Solar panel costs
Generally, a complete RV solar panel system will cost between $600-$2000, including the solar panel itself, installation, and any custom electrical work needed for the panel to work correctly. Costs vary widely depending on the type of use for your RV, from weekend outings to extended multi-day trips.
Solar panels for RVing and motorhomes work the same way a residential solar installation operates: solar panels capture sunlight and convert it into electricity, and you can use that solar electricity to power appliances. You can buy specialized portable solar panels designed for easy setup and take down, as well as small or flexible panels designed for mounting on an RV roof.
If you spend time camping and traveling in an RV, a solar panel setup can be a cost-effective, environmentally friendly, and convenient way to produce electricity on the go. Solar panel systems generally require little to no maintenance and provide a dependable source of electricity when the sun is shining. For RVers who mostly stick to campgrounds with electrical hookups, however, RV solar panels likely won't provide enough extra benefit to rationalize spending money on them.
A critical difference between residential and RV panels is the size of the system: RV solar panel setups are usually designed to provide enough power to recharge small devices or a few larger kitchen appliances. In contrast, a home solar system is typically sized to cover most or all of your property's electricity needs. You can always add more panels to your RV solar setup. Still, given the small amount of roof space and energy storage capacity requirements, RV solar panel systems are generally on the smaller side than residential rooftop installations. Many solar panels are made from monocrystalline cells, which are more efficient than polycrystalline cells. Below we have laid out some groundwork to determine how big a system you need.
Most solar panels for RVs are between 100 and 400 watts of power; an RV needs about 120 watts of energy on average. This means that an RV will need three 400, ten 200 solar panels, or any other combination of power outputs to meet its typical energy demand of 120 watts. What can you power with that kind of solar panel setup for your RV? For the following examples, we'll assume that your RV solar panel setup is sized at 800 watts and you have an appropriate storage setup to take full advantage of the energy your panels produce.
How many solar panels do you need for common appliances?
Power Consumption (W)
Daily Hours Of Use
Daily Power Consumption (Wh)
What do these numbers mean? Looking at column four, you can see an example of how much energy in watt-hours (Wh) running each appliance for an average amount of time in a day might use. If you have an 800 W RV solar panel system in direct sunlight for 5 hours daily, you'll produce approximately 4,000 Wh of energy each day (5 x 800 = 4,000). According to our calculations in the table above, that's more than enough to power small devices like lights and TVs, but you won't be able to run a refrigerator for an entire day.
An important takeaway from this analysis is that while solar panel systems for RVs will be able to power most of your small electronics and keep the lights on, don't expect to be able to run an unlimited amount of appliances. RV solar panels are a great way to keep the essentials up and running, but they likely can't power energy-hungry devices for too long.
Each RV owner has different reasons for going solar, which can affect the system setup they choose to implement. A roof-mounted RV solar system is an option if you don't want to set up portable solar panels every time you use your RV, making it the more convenient option for someone who uses their RV often. Another option is to use portable solar panels; this option is less expensive but requires more repeated setup and breakdown. With portable solar panels, you also don't have to worry about always having to park in direct sun for energy production. All you need is a battery and open space.
Dive into our complete overview of portable solar panels to learn more.
To generate solar power for your RV or camper, you'll need a setup complete with the following components:
A charge controller to prevent overcharging your storage system
An inverter to convert direct current (DC) electricity to alternating current (AC) electricity (Occasionally pre-built into the solar battery) and possibly a battery monitor
You can buy all of these components separately, but some motorhome solar panel kits are available to purchase that include most components. For example, WindyNation makes a 100-watt (W) RV solar panel kit with a solar panel, solar charge controller, cables, battery chargers, fuses, and mounting hardware. You'll need to purchase a battery separately for this specific kit.
You'll also need proper wires and cables to hook all of your components together and racking and mounting equipment for your panels – these parts will be included with your solar panel or battery system purchase. Remember that some equipment, such as pwm charge controllers, aren't weather-resistant and must be installed somewhere safe.
A deep cycle battery for your RV solar system is essential for running appliances outside daylight hours or when it is cloudy. Since RV solar panels are not grid-tied, your battery bank is your principal backup energy source. RV batteries will store energy produced by your PV panels, allowing you to use it as needed, while a charge controller will regulate that energy and prolong battery life. The real question is: what kind of batteries are best for your RV system?
Unlike standard lead-acid batteries, gel batteries are sealed. These batteries do not need to be monitored, and they don't produce any gas, making them an excellent choice for installing and then, more or less, forgetting them. Another benefit of gel batteries unique to RV solar systems is that they can be installed in many positions and orientations, making them an attractive option if space is an issue. Gel batteries are used in many motorized scooters and wheelchairs for their versatility and safety.
The caveat with gel batteries — which applies less to RVs — is that they don't have the same capacity as other rechargeable batteries. They can't meet the energy demands of a household the same way other options can, but this may not be an issue for an RV with lower energy demands.
While gel batteries provide more flexibility and a "set it and forget it" setup, lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are often the best choice, offering higher energy densities than any other type of battery charging currently available. Because lithium batteries have higher capacities, they can store and discharge more energy than other types of batteries with more amp hours of power. They're also typically more efficient and last longer, often making them the best option for RV solar systems.
However, one drawback is particularly applicable to those who use these batteries for their RV solar panels: Li-ion batteries (typically 12 volts) can overheat and become damaged at higher voltages. You'll want to keep your Li-ion battery in a cool location out of direct sunlight. Li-ion batteries are also typically priced higher than alternative energy storage options, so you'll want to protect them.
Absorbed glass mat batteries
Absorbed glass mat (AGM) batteries are a relatively new battery available on the market, and they are a good choice as an RV solar battery. These deep-cycle batteries are sealed, making them a maintenance-free choice for RV owners. Like gel batteries, AGM batteries would struggle to meet the energy demands of a household. But, the lower needs of an RV make them a good choice, and compared to other battery options for RVs, the upfront cost is relatively low.
However, AGM batteries can be more expensive compared to lead-based batteries, making them a less attractive option in some cases. Overcharging can also ruin them, and they aren't as efficient as Li-ion battery options. With AGM batteries, RV owners must ensure their charge controller remains in good working order. MPPT controllers can also be used if you have a high enough voltage.
If you're the type of RV owner who plans on spending lots of time in remote locations and dry camps without power hookups (known as "boondocking"), solar energy may be a way to see how much power you can generate and some long-term savings when compared to a gas generator. Over time, the costs of continually starting and running a gas generator will exceed the investment required for a solar panel system. You can expect your solar "payback period" to be under five years, but the time it takes to recoup your investment will depend on the equipment you purchase and the amount of sunlight that hits your solar panels.
However, RV solar panels won't make financial or practical sense for every RV owner. If you spend most of your RV time at campgrounds, you're probably better off hooking up to the local power system and paying the associated fee. Installing solar may save you money, but you may have to wait a long time to break even. Additionally, if you only take RV trips a few times per year, the upfront cost of an RV solar panel setup will likely not be worth the few times you can use the system. You should also check if the solar panel has a warranty available, just in case anything goes wrong with your system and needs replacement.
RV solar panel setups are often do-it-yourself (DIY) projects. Check out our video on DIY solar to see if it's right for you:
How many solar panels do I need to run an RV?
This depends on the wattage of the solar panel or panels that you have. For example, a 100-watt solar panel is enough to be a power source for smaller appliances and devices, such as lights or chargers, but you would likely need more than one panel for larger appliances or to power things full-time. Depending on your energy needs, you may need a higher-watt solar panel or need to install at least two.
Which type of solar panel is best for RVs?
Portable solar power systems or flexible solar panels are ideal for RVs. They are smaller, easier to install, sometimes foldable, and cost-effective compared to ground-mount or rooftop solar panels.
How much is a solar kit for RVs?
This largely depends on what you get, but you should expect to pay between $300-$400 for a solar panel system for an RV. It is best to shop around and compare solar systems online.
Can you run an RV air conditioner with solar power?
You can, but not with one 100-watt panel.
Modern RV air conditioners typically require 500-900 watts every hour. So, while you certainly can run your RV air conditioner on solar power, you'll need more than one panel.
Do I need an inverter to convert DC to AC with RV solar panels?
Like with your home, the appliances inside an RV run on AC while the engine and battery of the RV use DC electricity. Solar panels run on a DC, meaning that just like a residential solar setup, your RV solar panel system needs an inverter to convert that energy to AC electricity.
As an RV owner, you can save money by installing an RV solar panel system, but you'll reap more savings when you install a ground-mounted or rooftop system on your permanent property. To better understand your options for installation, check out EnergySage's Marketplace, where you can register your property and receive multiple solar quotes from local, pre-screened solar installers.
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